In Flynn's concept, Tevye the dairyman (Howard Kaye) and his wife and two youngest daughters have already been forced out of their Russian shtetl, Anatevka, and are in an immigrant processing center along with travelers of varied races, ethnicities, and societies. Among the family's few possessions is a photo album recounting their earlier lives; by sharing it with the other travelers, Tevye makes them part of a universal story. (Throughout, cast members watch the drama unfold from the edges of the stage until it is time for them to participate.)
The problem is that Kaye's Tevye is not the larger-than-life character portrayed in Zero Mostel's Broadway performance or Topol in the film version. Tevye must seize focus whenever he appears, a man with outsized attitudes and emotions; Kaye's portrayal is too contemporary and low-key, sardonic instead of volcanic, and often at odds with other members of the cast.
Flynn has also incorporated the Fiddler (Graciela Rey, who performs in choreography and mime) as a symbolic figure throughout the production. Rather than unifying the scenes, often her presence is a distraction. (For example, she is one of the bottle dancers at Tzeitel and Motel's wedding.)
That said, most of the cast are dead-on. Rachel Stern's Golde is stalwart, sometimes irritating but never less than supportive of her family. Sophie Schulman (Tzeitel), Sumié Yotsukura (Hodel), and Ariana Caldwell (Chava) give radiant performances as the three eldest daughters, each of whom challenges their father's belief that tradition is the only way to survive in a hostile world, and the larger ensemble is solid, while Cheryl J. Campo is an outspoken hoot as Yente the matchmaker. (Uniformed immigration officials take on the roles of Russian soldiers.)
Another way this Fiddler is different from others: Lorna Ventura's choreography moves beyond the re-creation of Jerome Robbins' original dances, most notably with the addition of spirited new all-female and all-male dances in the post-wedding scene.
The physical production has many ingenious elements: most props and costume pieces are found in the immigrants' luggage. Milagros Ponce de Léon's scenic design cleverly captures both the forbidding bureaucratic appearance of the immigration facility (rows of file drawers climbing to above the actors' heads) and, behind it, constantly shifting walls and minimal pieces of furniture. Mac Doolittle's lighting design and Matt Rowe's sound design succeed in both naturalistic and dreamlike settings, and costume designer Pei Lee has incorporated subtly specific elements for the major characters. The live musicians, conducted by Christopher Youstra, underpin the production.
Fiddler on the Roof runs through December 31, 2023, at Olney Theatre Center, Roberts Mainstage, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
Book by Joseph Stein